Leah Sparkman, Havenwood Academy Graduate and Ph.D Student.


Hello everyone,

My name is Leah Sparkman and I am a Havenwood Academy graduate. I attended Havenwood for a year from the summer of 2014- summer 2015. This means that around this month it has been about 5 years since I graduated from the program. I would like to offer some encouragement about the program and progress that you ultimately will make. Havenwood will change your life if you let it,  and hopefully this message can convince you of that.

My time at Havenwood was hard because I had to confront all of the things that were harming me and holding me back. There were times I cried and felt like I would never get past the nightmares and trauma I faced prior to coming to Havenwood. All of these moments were met by the realization that the people at Havenwood cared about me and wanted me to succeed. Even though sometimes my inner voice told me differently, I knew deep down in reality they cared about my wellbeing so deeply. Remember that the staff cares about you and wants what is best for you. Allow people to support you and do not try to do it alone.

This is an important life lesson I learned that helped me even when I left Havenwood. Seeking help does not make you a failure or weak, it makes you strong. Life becomes easier the moment you realize that.

Even further, there is a light at the end of the dark road. That sounds cliché, I know, but trust me there is. The light emerges if you allow it in and you have to work for it. You have to adopt a more positive mindset and allow your personal therapy journey to fundamentally change your mindset on life. It’s not simple but in the end, it’s the best thing I ever did. Do not rush the progress, take your time and process everything you need to. This way you will be more successful in coping with things later in life. It will become easier to compartmentalize your trauma later if you deal with it at Havenwood first. By the time I left Havenwood, I had addressed all of my personal traumas and hardships. That way when they came up later after leaving I knew how to deal with them and it has become easier year by year.

Now I would like to tell you about the things I did after leaving Havenwood Academy. I started out unsure of what I wanted to do and the transition back to normal life took about a year. I would like to add that this is normal and it is okay to be unsure about your next move after you graduate the program.  While at Havenwood, I developed a love for rock climbing. I decided to become a rock climbing instructor because of it. I did this for two summers while I attended my local community college. Community college ultimately helped to shape my interests due to my involvement in the debate program. Debate changed my life and I made lifelong friends because of it. I became a national champion in debate and gained a confidence I did not know I possessed. I went from barely being able to speak during my therapy at Havenwood to having a powerful voice on many issues we face in our world. This changed my perspective and made me realize that I could do anything I set my mind to.

This led to another opportunity: a coach offered me a scholarship to be on his debate team at a four-year college to get my bachelor’s degree. I was blown away that me, a once high school drop out, would get the opportunity to go to college for free because I worked hard at it. I ended up taking the scholarship offer and attending the University of Arkansas at Monticello to pursue a degree in Political Science. Through this, I have traveled to academic conferences all over the world including Germany and Puerto Rico to present my research in front of other academics. This week as I write this, I have graduated with my bachelor’s degree. I have even been accepted into a Ph.D. program with a full scholarship at a tier-one research university, The University of Houston. In August I will start classes and can not wait for what this opportunity holds.

I leave you with this, you do not plan your life but this is what makes life incredible. Often, there are a wave of different opportunities that will come your way. Take the ones that set your heart on fire and give them all you have got. In my case, I chose to be involved with good, positive activities that helped me become a better person. Sometimes these opportunities even scared me. An example of this is debate, before I joined I was absolutely terrified of public speaking. I overcame that fear and faced it head on. In the process of your life you will realize that fear is only a bad thing if you let it consume you. Facing hard things will allow you to keep doing even harder things in the end. It is a beautiful journey filled with winding roads and challenges. In the end, you choose,  and I believe in you. If I beat the odds stacked against me, you can too.


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